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January 21, 2020

Flour crisis

Editorial

 
January 21, 2020

Roti constitutes the staple in most households across the country. Therefore, the sudden shortage of wheat flour in the country and the consequent rise in prices constitutes a massive crisis for people who depend on the item for their meals. Though the shortage was felt much earlier, the acuteness of this problem has come to light only recently. For the common citizens, this is another lash on their back, suffering as they are already under the tremendous pressure of a double scourge of inflation and unemployment. For economic managers of this country, perhaps it has not been a serious issue. Has it been one, they would have taken appropriate measure before the crisis reached its present stage. The ministers and advisers of the present government have been terming all this an artificial creation of crisis, though it is not at all so. Repeatedly government representatives and spokespersons have been blaming ‘hoarders’ and ‘profiteers’ for the shortage. The question is; if the government knows for sure that some ‘hoarders’ have been responsible for this ‘artificial’ situation, why didn’t it take any action against them?

Hoarding means the stocks are there but they are being retained for higher prices. If that is the case, why is there a sudden need to import wheat from other countries? Why can’t the government simply nab the hoarders and ‘profiteers?’ And confiscate all their hoardings to supply them in the market. Now the latest we hear about it is that the government will be importing 0.2 to 0.3 million tons of wheat from Australia or from Central Asian Republics such as Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, or Uzbekistan. On January 20, the Economic Coordination Council (ECC) of the federal cabinet approved duty-free import of wheat on an emergency basis. According to reports, no regulatory duty will be charged on all imports of wheat till further orders. The meeting of the ECC was presided over by none other than the adviser to the prime minister on finance, Abdul Hafeez Shaikh.

Interestingly, once again in the meeting it was reiterated that sufficient stocks of the commodity are available across the country, and the government will import wheat only to save consumers from soaring prices. This is mind-boggling logic. If that is the case, why did some senior officials warn the government of an impending wheat crisis in the country, and why did the decision-makers not pay any heed to them? Now another excuse is being floated that the federal government cannot be held accountable because it is a provincial responsibility to procure commodities. If that is the case why could the federal and Punjab governments not coordinate to forestall the crisis? Perhaps, we will never get the answers. This is another example of the perception among people that the government his failing to manage the affairs of the country. Certainly, at this point blaming specific provinces or mafias is unnecessary. The focus must be on resolving the problem.